People who embarked on home improvements or new construction during the pandemic quickly learned that licensed electricians are in short supply.
Edgecombe Community College is working to meet the local need for electricians through its program in Electrical Systems Technology.
“There are only 300 unlimited electricians in the state of North Carolina, and that number is shrinking,” said Doug Parrish, department chair of Industrial and Technical Trades at ECC. “Electricians are retiring, and no one is taking their place.”
Some experts blame the recession of the late 2000s. Like many skilled jobs, electrician jobs disappeared dramatically. Others blame the exodus on the reduction in high school shop classes.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of electricians is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.
“My sales pitch for the field is: ‘You have an opportunity to work with your hands as well as your mind. And you can take it as far as you want,’” Parrish said.
An electrician can attain three licensed designations in North Carolina: limited, intermediate and unlimited, Parish said.
A limited electrician is allowed to work on a single project up to $60,000 in value and under 600 volts or fewer. Intermediate licensing enables an electrician to work on projects valued at up to $150,000. An electrician with an unlimited license can work on any project.
“A lot of responsibility comes with an unlimited license,” Parrish said. “It’s very difficult to get.”
To qualify for an unlimited license, electricians must accrue 4,000 hours of on-the-job training, be bonded for up to $60,000 and have $15,000 in the bank, but electricians can earn excellent wages without this license.
The average electrician in North Carolina earns $21.47 per hour and averages $7,500 a year in overtime, which amounts to about $52,157 annually. In 2018 in Edgecombe County, the average income per household was $35,516.
Edgecombe Community College offers a one-year diploma program and four certificate-level credentials in Electrical Systems Technology.
Joe Foley was a student in the program in 2020, enrolled in coursework for several certificates, when a local company hired him as an electrician earlier this year.
“I had submitted my job application before I began the program at Edgecombe Community College, and they said I wasn’t qualified,” said Foley, a former Marine tank mechanic. “Then they came back and offered me my dream job.
“The only difference was that I earned a certificate in electrical wiring at ECC in my first semester. That, and I completed an OSHA 10-hour training class on tools and safety.”
Foley said he enjoyed his brief time at ECC, highlighting especially all that he learned. He said that instructors are knowledgeable and are willing to work with students to help them succeed.
Parrish said it made sense for Foley to leave college for the workplace since he had so much prior work experience in addition to the skills he acquired at ECC. Other students are hired quickly, too.
“The earning potential is there,” he said, “especially with overtime.”
Another option for students is to continue their education at four-year schools. Parrish said one recent ECC graduate earned his electrical engineering degree at a university and is now working in management for an electrical provider in the state.
To learn more about Electrical Systems Technology at ECC, contact Parrish at 252-618-6658 or [email protected].
Since tuition and fees are free this fall for all qualifying students through the Edgecombe Pledge, now is the best time to enroll. Fall classes begin Aug. 19.